Over the years Damien’s mother Valerie Nettles has done numerous appeals on television, radio, newspapers, and magazines.
Mrs Nettles co-organized The March for the Missing in March 2008 in London with Nicki Durbin, mother of missing boy Luke Durbin, to help raise awareness for the issue of those who go missing in an attempt to help get a bill passed to help assist the families left behind to cope. They truly hoped the government would listen to their voices and recognise that the missing issue is not new and that they have no guidance or support. The Missing People Charity is all they have and the job is massive and the funds are short for one organisation to be able to sustain the needs of the magnitude of the issue.
The police and the Missing Peoples Charity agreed to do some kind of press release. The charity Missing People supported the march for the missing. It remains the UKs only charity working with young runaways, missing people, their families and others who care for them.
Missing People's Head of Services spoke about out the charity's family support services and their plans for the future on GMTV with Kate Garraway. Nicky Durbin and Valerie also spoke about Damien and Luke.
The BBC broadcast Missing Live from April to May 2008, presented by Louise Minchin (BBC Breakfast) and Rav Wilding (Crimewatch and former Metropolitan Police Detective), and was based on the previous BBC Daytime documentary series Missing. The series followed the work of the police and the charity, Missing People, in their efforts to discover the whereabouts of just some of the 210,000 people who are reported missing each year. Damien was included in the series.
The formation of the NPIA (National Policing Improvement Agency) in 2008 gave me hope that the Missing issue would now have official support with the national Missing Persons Bureau and establishing the national clearing house for missing person cases and the only DNA centre in the UK to help identify unidentified remains. More recently the Government implemented a Task Force to look into the phenomenon of the missing issue and things really seemed to be gaining momentum in terms of the missing issue attaining more widespread and government interest. It was a shock to hear several months ago that the government sought to dissolve the NPIA on 2012 and replace it with a new formation of the police department is unclear as to how the DNA and the Missing Person’s Bureau will continue to function.
On the eleventh anniversary of Damien’s disappearance his family launched a new initiative to keep Damien’s name in the media.
Forever Searching arranged for Damien to be featured in a live webcast by the LA, California based band Clementine. The music was played by the band featuring UK artist Darius Lux. There were several people from the UK featured who either went missing in the UK or were UK citizens who went missing abroad.
There was an opportunity during the webcast for people to send email that were live on the webcast. The families were featured and were very grateful to be included. This was the start of an amazing new and unique way to get the message across about missing people by using popular music as a venue to draw attention to the whole missing people issue. More details about the Squeaky Wheel Tour can be found at http://www.411gina.org.
Forever Searching also arranged for Damien to be featured in International Missing Children's Day at South Bank, London on Monday 18th May 2009. A balloon arch was erected with the balloons showing five missing children from each of the 17 Global Missing Children Network (GMCN) member’s countries. NPIA and Missing People participated in co-ordination with the Australian Federal Police, the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC Washington - USA) and other partners of the Global Missing Children's Network. Missing Children Europe and its associated NGOs were also involved.
A charity launched its own Countdown to Christmas in a bid to find children who were missing from home, some of them for several years. Damien was one of the twelve missing children featured. The campaign was conducted through Twitter and Facebook by Help Find My Child, a registered charity committed to the search for missing children worldwide. It specialises in combining the latest technologies with the incredible power and reach of online communities such as Twitter and Facebook. The charity updated its Facebook page each day and on Twitter sent out each morning at 8am a link to the blog of the missing child featured that day. The Tweet was also sent to celebrities who were asked to re-tweet, using their considerable influence to increase the profile of the child, the campaign and the issue of missing children. The link for Damien is www.helpfindmychild.net/damien-nettles.
On the 14th anniversary Damien’s mum rented a billboard in the busy town of Newport, Isle of Wight. Yet again the family and friends pulled together to get something done for Damien. The billboard featured a picture of Damien and brief description of Damien and will include the Crime Stoppers phone number. The local YMCA printed t-shirts with Damien’s picture and Missing People website, and the local high school and college kids pledged to wear them and became human billboards. This campaign ran for two consecutive years.
In January 2011 the family held a music-fuelled evening at the Anchor pub in January 2011. They raised funds for the missing issue and celebrated Damien with bands playing for Damien and the missing issue, some who were his childhood friends, which makes it all the more poignant.
In May 2011 to celebrate International Missing Children’s Day Damien’s family arranged a balloon launch to remember all the children were remained missing worldwide. Balloons were released into the air in Newport hosted by Vectis Radio. This event was organised by a charity that raised awareness of missing children globally. Pictures of all the children were displayed in the St Thomas Square.
In 2012, Gennive Woolston, who went to school with Damien’s older sister, decided to do a disco to raise funds, but she quickly found that the community and local businesses were prepared to offer much more - a venue at Cowes Yacht Haven including open the bar and providing the staff for free. Local bands flocked to play, again offering their time and talent for free and a band from London came especially to help support the efforts to raise a reward. So many people stepped up to the plate. Local TV and radio, sound technicians and lighting all came to bring this gig together in a very polished and professional way. It became known as ‘Damien’s Gig’ and posters were placed far and wide. Social networking spread the word to far flung friends across the globe. It was even live streamed on the internet.
In December 2012, Kaley Hall a member of Team Damien arranged a peaceful march through Newport to raise awareness of three possible burial sites for Damien. During the 2012 march, some new information came to light from a previous witness’s recollections.
In 2014, family friends Lynn Hammond & Kaley Hall arranged a carol service for Damien, accompanied by Mrs Nettles’ brother and sister-in-law in the UK. It was well attended and local media outlets covered the story in newspapers and online.
“The boy who wasn’t coming home”
On the 19th anniversary of Damien’s disappearance in 2015, Lynn Hammond & Kaley Hall arranged a candlelit vigil on the Isle of Wight. Despite the passage of time the family still have an immense support network on the island.
It was covered by ITV Meridian News and a video is available on their website.
On the 20th anniversary of Damien’s disappearance, his mother Valerie Nettles was inundated with interview requests from the media. Her dear friend Lynn Hammond led the walk reconstructing the route Damien took on that fateful night, aptly named “Damien’s Last Walk”. She was joined by her grandson Kieran who is of similar build to Damien, wearing identical clothing to try to jog people's memories. It was poignant for Damien’s family watching live video streamed to them in the US.
Over 25 people from the community attended the walk, including Damien’s friend who was with him earlier in the evening on 2 November 1996.
The Isle of Wight Country Press released a 20 year interactive time.
Centre for the Study of Missing Persons
The Centre, founded to accommodate the growing interest in the field of missing persons, provides a clear focus for research, knowledge transfer and educational provision to academics, professionals in this community and relatives of missing people.
By Valerie Nettles